Topic: Pettit, Foundations of Spiritual Formation, Introduction and Ch. 1
Thread Prompt: RTCH
Jonathan Morrow writes in Chapter 1, “Spiritual formation is divinely enabled by God through three essential resources: God’s Word, God’s Spirit, and God’s people (the church)” (p. 45). Of these 3 essential resources, which do you think is the most neglected resource, and why is it the most neglected?
Word Count: 450
SEE YELLOW HIGHLIGHTED AREA BELOW
Laying the Foundations of Spiritual Formation
Introducing Spiritual Formation
Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.
—1 John 3:2 NASB
The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs. God is a Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each an uncreated person, one in essence, equal in power and glory.
—Doctrinal Statement, Evangelical Theological Society
Spiritual formation1 has had many traditional and denominational expressions throughout church history.2 In recent years resurgence in thinking about spiritual formation has swept over the evangelical landscape. Our purpose here is to set forth a distinctively evangelical view of spiritual formation. Our journey will begin as we (1) examine the necessary preconditions for doing distinctively evangelical spiritual formation. We will then (2) examine spiritual formation in light of the gospel and (3) explore in panorama the theological implications for spiritual formation. We will conclude our journey, equipped with theological clarity and content, as we (4) show how God spiritually forms believers into the image of his Son, Jesus Christ.
Preconditions for Doing Evangelical Spiritual Formation
Certain preconditions for doing distinctively evangelical spiritual formation will frame our approach. These are the indispensable rails on which the following discussion runs. One essential distinctive of an evangelical approach to spiritual formation is a high view of Scripture.3 All else derives from this unique source of God’s special revelation to humanity. Before examining God’s special revelation in the Bible, it should be noted that evangelicals also affirm God’s general revelation through what he has made. God has not left himself without witness since all of creation is stamped with the divine fingerprint.4
God has spoken. But what precisely does that mean? Evangelicals confess that God has spoken truly5 and authoritatively6 through his Word (special revelation). David Clark in his comprehensive work, To Know and Love God, offers a crisp summary of the evangelical view of Scripture.
[The Bible] alone is the unique, written revelation of God, a permanent, meaningful, and authoritative self-expression by God of his nature and will. The Holy Spirits act of superintendence— inspiration—was decisive in the writing of Scripture and is the reason the Bible possesses unique status as revelation. Through inspiration, the Holy Spirit aided those who wrote the Bible. The Spirit then guided the church in identifying inspired works and collecting them as the canon. This supervision renders Scripture uniquely authoritative for Christian believers. Of course, the Spirit also preserved the Bible and now guides in interpreting the Bible, but these activities are distinct from the Spirit’s work in inspiration.7
This conviction is evident in the Evangelical Theological Society’s doctrinal statement that must be affirmed annually by its members.8 Prominent evangelical theologian David Dockery offers a helpful definition of inerrancy by stating that “when all the facts are known, the Bible (in its original writings) properly interpreted in light of which culture and communication means had developed by the time of its composition will be shown to be completely true (and therefore not false) in all that it affirms, to the degree of precision intended by the author, in all matters relating to God and his creation.”9 Evangelicals maintain that respect for and submission to the Scriptures is a vital presupposition for spiritual formation. David Clark attests, “Those who refuse to acknowledge the Bible’s authority will not experience spiritual transformation by the Spirit and through the Word.”10 Paul demonstrated the link between viewing God’s Word as authoritative and the work of spiritual formation when he wrote, “For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe” (1 Thess. 2:13 NASB; cf. John 17:17; 2 Tim. 3:16-17).
Now that we have established an evangelical foundation for our discussion, let us examine some important philosophical issues that will allow greater precision for our study. Every generation of Christian theologians faces a different set of cultural and philosophical issues. This was the case for Augustine and Aquinas, and it is no different today. In our generation, postmodernism must be critically assessed because it—as a philosophical system—impacts one’s view of God’s special revelation in the Bible. Postmodernism can also shape our ability to derive a biblical/systematic theology from the Bible, which in turn informs the spiritual formation process. Students forming their views regarding these cultural and philosophical issues, as well as those serving in ministries where people are also forming their convictions on these issues, need to be aware of the contemporary cultural atmosphere so that they can think Christianly within it. America at the beginning of the twenty-first century has shifted toward postmodernism, though few would know to label themselves as postmodernists. College graduates from the 1950s up to the present have been shaped by central ideas undergirding postmodern thought.11 Many from this generation have become disillusioned with the unkept promises of the Enlightenment (i.e., that scientific advancement and knowledge alone would solve all of humanity’s problems). This disillusionment has led many to deny the classical (and commonsense) notion of the correspondence theory of truth12 and reject the idea that language has meaning outside of a socially constructed context.13 Many are unconvinced that there is a way the world actually is and that we have access to it and dismiss the whole idea of metanarratives (which is what the Bible claims to provide).14 Unfortunately, some within the evangelical community are beginning to embrace philosophical postmodernism’s presuppositions and absorb them into their views of truth, knowledge, biblical interpretation, and the enterprise of theology as a whole.15 In the final analysis, evangelicals must affirm that objective truth can be discovered,16 known, and communicated because all truth is ultimately grounded in the person of God and the propositional revelation of that God.17
Understanding Spiritual Formation in Light of the Gospel
With these preliminaries firmly established, let us now focus our attention on understanding spiritual formation in light of the gospel. Through an exploration and explanation of the gospel of the kingdom, we can understand better the context in which spiritual formation occurs. The gospel is “good news.”18There is only one gospel. But for practical purposes it is helpful to make a distinction between the gospel as an invitation offered to unbelievers19 and the gospel as God’s full kingdom program.20 The good news that Christians share with unbelievers provides them the opportunity to “enter the eternal kind of life now” through Jesus Christ.21 But this is only the beginning. The more we explore what God has said, done, and promised, the bigger the good news gets! The kingdom story we find ourselves in (the true metanarrative if you will) encompasses all of reality. This is the gospel in the fullest sense. Darrell Bock captures this sentiment well by stating, “The gospel is about far more than heaven.”22
An analogy might be helpful. Think of the content of what we share with unbelievers in evangelism as being similar to the preview of a novel printed on the dust jacket. Does that preview fully capture the novel? Of course not! But it does give the person the opportunity to join the never-ending story. And it is within this never-ending, kingdom story that the process of spiritual formation occurs. Just as a precious jewel shines most brilliantly against the background of lavish velvet, so the process of spiritual formation shines brightest in light of the gospel of the kingdom.
Theological Implications for Spiritual Formation in Panoramic View
Viewing the fullness of the gospel ushers our discussion into theological implications for spiritual formation. As we look at the panorama of God’s revelation, we must climb four prominent peaks (the Trinity, humanity in the image of God, the God-man Jesus Christ, and salvation) and descend into one murky valley (the fall and sinfulness of humanity). We will describe the theological truths discovered along the way and then show their relationship to spiritual formation.
The most prominent of the four peaks is the Trinity, and it is this doctrine that serves as the ultimate reference point for all of reality. As we stand at the base of this mountain, we gaze in wonder and awe as the majestic disappears into the clouds beyond our sight. And while this doctrine is ultimately beyond reason,23 God has been pleased to reveal the boundaries of orthodoxy in his Word to ensure accurate understanding among his people. Bruce Ware offers a salient summary of the classic biblical teaching on the Trinity:
The Christian faith affirms that there is one and only one God, eternally existing and fully expressed as three Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Each member of the Godhead is equally God, each is eternally God, and each is fully God—not three gods but three Persons of the one Godhead. Each Person is equal in essence as each possesses fully the identically same, eternal divine nature, yet each is also an eternal and distinct personal expression of the one undivided divine nature.24
So we see that God, from all eternity, exists in a self-giving (often termed perichoretic) love relationship as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In short, God is essentially relational. For any view of spiritual formation to be adequate, it must be fully Trinitarian. As Klaus Issler puts it, “Christian spirituality involves a deepening trust and friendship with God for those who are in Christ Jesus. More specifically, it is an ever growing, experientially dynamic relationship with our Trinitarian God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—through the agency of the indwelling Spirit of God.”25
Perhaps the single most significant philosophical question that all worldviews and religions have to answer is, “Why is there something instead of nothing?” God in his aseity26 (lit. “from or by himself”) did not have to create. He was completely satisfied in himself and did not need creation to express his attributes. Why did he create then? The Scriptures hint at the reason. It seems that God’s purpose in creation was so that he could invite a community of his image bearers in Christ to participate in the eternal love relationship that the Trinity enjoys, thus displaying his glory (John 17:20-25; cf. Eph. 3:11). James Beilby puts it this way: “Creation is a gift of God’s love—unmerited and unnecessitated … [in which] the glory of God finds its fullest expression.”27 Indeed, the doctrine of the Trinity in all its magnificence is foundational for evangelical spiritual formation.
Humanity in the Image of God
The next peak we need to explore on our expedition is that of who we are as humans. What does it mean to be human (both male and female) in the image of the triune God? Where does our innate desire for relationship come from? What is it that is being spiritually formed? Answering these questions will help us better understand the process of spiritual formation.
There has been much discussion regarding what it means to be made in the image or likeness of God.28 The Hebrew words for “image” and “likeness” “refer to something that is similar but not identical to the thing it rep-resents or is an ‘image’ of.”29 There are generally three different views of the image of God (substantive, relational, and functional), but Ware’s definition best integrates these aspects together:
The image of God in man as functional holism means that God made human beings, both male and female, to be created and finite representations (images of God) of God’s own nature, that in relationship with Him and each other they might be His representatives (imaging God) in carrying out the responsibilities He has given to them. In this sense, we are images of God in order to image God and His purposes in the ordering of our lives and the carrying out of our God-given responsibilities.30
Supplementing this definition, Robert Saucy contributes the following implications of the “endowments of personality” implicit in the image of God: self-conscious rationality (I would include emotional capacities as well), self-determination or freedom, moral nature, and original righteousness (i.e., Adam was created good by God).31 The obvious inference is that humans are distinct from all of the animal creation in that we alone bear the image of God (Gen. 1:27; James 3:9).
Also, we are inherently relational because we are made in the image of a relational God. Thus the rugged individualism and “lone-ranger Christianity” so prevalent in America is opposed to God’s intention. A man, alone with God, would seem to be the pinnacle of spirituality in our culture, but God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18). Authentic community is God’s intention for humanity. In short, as humans we were created in the image of God in order to experience a vibrant relationship with our triune Creator God and to experience authentic relationships in community with one another.32
God created humanity as male and female. Discussions of gender often arouse strong emotions. Ware offers a needed word of clarification: “After affirming the complete essential equality of men and women as created in the image of God, an obvious observation must be made that has important implications: While male is fully human, male is also male, not female; and while female is fully human, female is also female, not male. That is, while God did intend to create male and female as equal in their essential nature as human, he also intended to make them different expressions of that essential nature, as male and female reflect different ways, as it were, of being human.”33 Gender does affect the spiritual formation process. Men and women must discover how they express the image of God as distinctively male and female.34
We often overlook the fact that we were created to relate to God as physical beings on a physical earth. The popular notion that the ideal state of relating to God is blissfully floating as an ethereal spirit is simply false. Human beings are composed of both material (body) and immaterial (soul) aspects functioning as unified entities (holistic dualism).35 Saucy explains that “Although the human person is a basic duality, these two aspects of his nature are joined together in a functional holism of life.”36 Humans are called to love God with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength (Luke 10:27). In other words, we are to love God with an integrated devotion.37 The term that ap-pears more than any other in Scripture is heart.38 “It is important to grasp the biblical truth that in the heart, the operating center from which all behavior flows, thought, feeling, and will all come together in a unified whole.”39
In sum, humanity in the image of God as male and female is the highest of the created order and was intended to function in vibrant physical relationship with our triune God and in authentic community with one another. They’ve lived happily ever after, right? Unfortunately they have not.
The Fall and Sinfulness of Humanity
We are now at the low point in our journey, slogging through a murky valley far below the prominent peaks explored thus far. Our survey of the carnage found here reveals what was created good in the beginning has been corrupted and wrecked by sin and death. A great fall has occurred (Gen. 3), and we must honestly deal with this fact if we are to be spiritually transformed. The sin of Adam has stained all of his progeny with sin and death due to his disobedience as humanity’s head (Rom. 5:12-21).40 Everyone born after Adam validates his initial act of disobedience through sins of commission (doing what we should not do) and sins of omission (not doing what we ought to do).
The wreck known as the fall defaced the image of God in humanity, but mercifully it did not erase it. The wages of death now spread to all men and women. We all have fallen tragically short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). Humanity now finds itself in a sinful state41 that is agonizingly not the way it was supposed to he. In Cornelius Plantinga’s words, “Shalom [i.e., peace or wholeness] is God’s design for creation and redemption; sin is blamable human vandalism of these great realties and therefore an affront to their architect and builder.”42 Shalom has been vandalized. The consequences are staggering. Humanity has been spiritually separated from God, separated from themselves,43 separated from their fellow human beings (hostility), and separated from the ruling relationship they were intended to have over nature. Nature itself has been corrupted and subjugated by sin (Rom. 8:20-22). The consequences of the fall are extensive and affect the total person (i.e., total depravity).44 What has been deformed by the ugliness of sin (the whole person) must now be reformed according to the ideal image of perfect humanity found in Jesus Christ. Dallas Willard observes that “the greatest need you and I have—the greatest need of collective humanity—is renovation of our heart. That spiritual place within us from which outlook, choices and actions come has been formed by a world away from God. Now it must be transformed.”45
The God-Man, Jesus Christ
The second person of the Godhead became incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ in order to reveal the Father, defeat Satan and his works, seek and save the lost, and become humanity’s substitute and Savior by atoning for the sins of the whole world46 so that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). Jesus is the expression of the triune God in human flesh, in whom God was pleased to allow all the fullness of deity to dwell (Col. 1:19; 2:9). Jesus—the perfect and unique God-man—is fully God and fully human. Being fully God, he can save us; and being fully human, he can identify with us. Both are necessary. He possesses all that it requires to be God and has added to his divine nature a human nature like ours in every respect—except sin (Heb. 4:15). All that was said above about our (pre-fall) human nature is true of the human nature of Christ. He is the perfect image of God.
These are lofty statements that are orthodox, wonderful, and true. And yet, many Christians find it difficult to believe in the full humanity of Jesus. A Jesus who is God is relatively easy to conceive of. But a Jesus who was human in the same way we are and experienced everyday life like we do is sometimes hard to imagine. But the Bible presents Jesus as human as much as it confesses him to be divine. A careful reading of the Gospels reveals the striking humanity of Jesus.47 He grew in wisdom, stature, and favor with men and God (Luke 2:52). He hungered (Luke 4:2), wept (John 11:35), was tempted in all ways as we are (Luke 4:2; Heb. 4:15), felt compassion (Matt. 9:36), loved (John 11:5), learned obedience (Luke 22:42; Heb. 5:8), and even got angry (Mark 11:15-17)—but all without sinning. He was prayerfully dependent on the Father (Luke 5:16; John 17), empowered by the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:1), and full of grace and truth (John 1:14). Jesus fulfilled the greatest commandment of loving the Father perfectly and his neighbors as himself. So in the sinful state of deformation that we find ourselves, the Scriptures hold forth Jesus as our ultimate example to follow in spiritual formation.48 And as we follow him obediently in discipleship (living as he lived), we are increasingly conformed to his image (Luke 6:40; Gal. 4:19; Col. 3:10).
So Great a Salvation
The doctrine of salvation (soteriology) is considered here because we need to see the means by which God can righteously invite us into a love relationship with himself. We will divide our discussion into the truths that are ours already and the ones we have not yet experienced.
When we recognize the depth of our sin and place our trust in the finished work of Christ on our behalf, we become a Christian. At that moment, many truly amazing things happen (and have already been happening to make salvation even possible).49 What occurs at this beautiful moment is sometimes referred to as positional salvation or justification (Rom. 3:24, 28).50 We have been freed from the penalty of sin. Some of the benefits acompanying justification include substitution,51 regeneration (John 3:3;Titus 3:5), redemption (Gal. 3:13), propitiation,52 reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-21), adoption (John l:!2;Rom. 8:14-17), baptism by the Holy Spirit,53 and eternal security/assurance of salvation.54 These are just some of the blessings that are ours positionally in Christ.
What an astonishing list this is! And yet the process has only begun. It is not complete. Sanctification involves our being progressively freed from the power of sin. As Christians, we live in the now and not yet. “Christians are positionally holy by virtue of being in Christ (1 Cor. 1:2; 6:11; Heb. 10:10) although experientially they remain tainted by sin.”55 We are simultaneously “sinning saints” or “saintly sinners.” While it is true that we possess everything for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3), it is also true that we still await our final state of righteousness in glorified bodies. This occurs at glorification when the presence of sin is finally done away with. We see in part now (1 Cor. 13:12), but one day all the blinders of sin will be removed. Sin has initially been dealt with at the cross, but its final (historical) demise is yet future. One day our character will finally be conformed to Christ—positional will become actual. This process is what spiritual formation is all about.
How God Spiritually Forms Believers into the Image of Christ
In this final section, we will seek to unite all of the content above into a cogent theological road map to show how God spiritually forms believers into the image of Christ. Just as salvation occurs by grace alone through faith, so too the spiritual formation process takes place by grace alone through faith empowered by the Holy Spirit, who keeps our eyes steadied on Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:2).
Spiritual formation is divinely enabled by God through three essential resources: God’s Word, God’s Spirit, and God’s people (the church).
The first essential resource is exposure to God’s Word. By its truth our thinking is renewed and we are able to break free from the anti-Christian mold the world seeks to press us into (Rom. 12:1-2). God’s Word is the primary and objective source of truth about Christ and what it means to follow him. It is a lamp to the feet and a light to the path (Ps. 119:105), alive and active (Heb. 4:12), sweeter than honey (Ps. 19:10), more precious than gold (Ps. 19:10), perfect and trustworthy (Ps. 19:7), and true and righteous (Ps. 19:9). Exposure to God’s Word provides many benefits to our journey of spiritual formation, such as stability (Eph. 4:12-15), in-sight/guidance (Ps. 119:9-10; Prov. 3:5-6), and spiritual maturity (1 Peter 2:2-3; cf. 1 Cor. 3:1-3; Heb. 5:14). Walt Russell offers helpful insight concerning hermeneutics, the discipline of Bible reading, and spiritual formation:
First, we must reject the idea that there is a chasm between informational reading and formational reading. No such false dichotomy should exist in our reading of the Bible. Rather, we should first be reading to understand the intention of the biblical author within the biblical book we are reading. This involves some “informational” emphasis, but is not an end in and of itself, nor is it as intensive as an academic study of the passage. Rather, it is a means to the end of being spiritually formed according to the meaning of a biblical passage. There can be no true spiritual transforming apart from the true meaning of the biblical text! Although this demands some initial informational emphasis in the reading of the Bible, it should be balanced. It is both author-and text-centered (for the meaning of the passage) and reader-responsive (for the significance of that meaning to us).56
God dynamically uses his Word to form us into the image of Christ.
The third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, is another essential resource for our spiritual formation. When Jesus spoke to his disciples in the Upper Room Discourse, he promised another helper, the Holy Spirit, who not only would be with them, but, after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, also would be in them (John 14:17). As discussed above, the Holy Spirit indwells us and is at work in our lives. He is a person, not a force. The gifts that the body of Christ enjoys are dispensed by the Holy Spirit for the edification and benefit of the community (1 Cor. 12; Rom. 12; Eph. 4; 1 Peter 4).57 In short, there is no spiritual formation if there is no activity of the Holy Spirit. As Gordon Fee has aptly said, “The Spirit is … the empowering presence of God for living the life of God in the present.”58 Robert Gromacki summarizes some of the Spirit’s ministries in the Christian’s life: He assists us in prayer, strengthens us, leads and guides us,59 enables us to resist temptation, aids us in our understanding/ application of the Scriptures, enables us to proclaim the gospel, and empowers us to serve God.60 The Spirit is both essential and active! But he can be quenched (1 Thess. 5:19) and grieved (Eph. 4:30) by the believer. We desperately need the resources of the Spirit to become more like Jesus (2 Cor. 3:18). It is encouraging to see evangelicals desiring to see more of the Spirit’s power emphasized, experienced, and manifested in believers’ lives today.61
The final essential resource for spiritual formation is the body of Christ (the church). The Christian life is not to be pursued in isolation. It is refreshing to see so many leading evangelical thinkers make this clear in their writings. James White points out that “A … myth [about the spiritual life] is that a personal relationship with God through Christ is synonymous with a private relationship with God through Christ. The truth however, is that becoming a truly spiritual person is a team sport.”62 Dallas Willard observes that “Spiritual Formation, good or bad, is always profoundly social. You cannot keep it to yourself. Anyone who thinks of it as a merely private matter has misunderstood it.”63 And Gordon Fee expresses it this way: “God is not just saving individuals and preparing them for heaven; rather, he is creating a people among whom he can live and who in their life together will reproduce God’s life and character.”64
The bottom line is that we need one another in order to be conformed to the image of Christ. The image of Christ has a communal expression (cf. Gal. 4:19—”you” is plural here). Even our knowledge of God is incomplete without one another, as Issler rightly points out: “God is so grand and majestic, and each relationship is so person specific that there will be much to learn about God from the stories of other believers’ experiences with God. The fullest knowledge of God attainable by human beings will only come about within a growing and God-knowing community of saints. Thus, to know God more fully cannot be accomplished without the larger community of believers.”65 The community of God is not an American phenomenon, and the goal should not be to become a Western evangelical Christian.66 The wonderful truth is that communities of Christians in every language and from all countries are included in the process of being conformed to the image of Christ. The body of Christ is diverse, and we have much to learn from one another. God is good to give us each other—now if we could only get along as Jesus prayed for us (John 17:20-23)!
So God has given us all we need for the task of spiritual formation through three essential resources that empower us in our journey toward Christlikeness—his Word, his Spirit, and his people.
Spiritual Formation Requires a “Both/And” Approach
Sometimes we make “either/or” decisions when the correct choice is a “both/and.” This is especially true in two key spiritual formation areas. The first area requiring a both/and approach concerns the Spirit of God’s activity and the believer’s activity. An either/or approach here must be rejected. Rather, we should embrace the reality that both the Spirit of God is at work in our lives and we cooperate with that work (Phil. 2:12-13; 1 Thess. 2:13; 2 Peter 1:3-8). Just as the individual must respond in faith in order to be justified, so too must the individual respond in faith during the process of sanctification. As Dallas Willard has put it in The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’s Essential Teachings on Discipleship, effort does not equal earning. God initiates and enables, and then we respond in faith by cooperating with the work he desires to do in us. It is all motivated by grace.
The second both/and concerns whether spiritual formation is individualized or practiced communally. It is both—we are individuals created to function within a community (Rom. 12:4-5). And that entails that we practice both individual67 and corporate68 disciplines. Jesus himself made a point to seek solitude and pray (Matt. 26:36; Luke 5:16). Paul commands us to discipline ourselves “for the purpose of godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7 NASB).Yet, the disciplines are not the end goal but the means.69 Practicing the disciplines creates a context and opportunity for the Spirit to work in our lives. Some shy away from individual disciplines because they fear they will lead to legalism. And while that can happen, this should not keep Christians from practicing them. Dallas Willard helpfully describes the spiritual disciplines as “the indirect means that allow us to cooperate in reshaping the personality—the feelings, ideas, mental processes and images, and the deep readiness of soul and body— so that our whole being is poised to go with the movements of the regenerate heart that is in us by the impact of the Gospel Word under the direction and energizing of the Holy Spirit.”70 As individuals are conformed to Christ with an integrated devotion and within the community, they do not lose their individuality. They are now functioning in a Trinitarian-informed way in which their individuality is expressed in and for the benefit of the Christian community.
Christians’ Spiritual Formation impacts the Culture
Since salvation is holistic, one possibly obvious implication of the spiritual formation process is that the believer’s life should ultimately affect the culture.71 One of the purposes for which Christ saved us was for us to be a people “eager to do what is good” (Titus 2:14; cf. 1 Peter 2:12).72 As we seek to be conformed to the image of Christ, we need to be mindful that Jesus’ primary role on earth was to glorify the Father. So one way we “image the Son” is by bringing glory to the Father. Jesus said, “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). Just prior to this verse we are reminded that we are to be a preserving agent (salt) and a voice of truth (light). This need not result in a “socialized gospel” as long as we continue to offer the gospel of the kingdom to the world (Acts 28:31). Christ followers are to be publicly engaged because transformation occurs as in-dividuals within communities live out the good news of the kingdom.73 Christ was a public figure who impacted the world with the words of life that he spoke, the quality of life that he lived, and the acts of service and compassion that he performed.
Christianity is not just privately true, requiring our attention for only two hours on a Sunday morning; it is public and should affect the totality of life (i.e., a Christian worldview). Unfortunately, evangelicals have withdrawn from ethical, social, political, educational, and cultural issues and institutions.74 As evangelicals, we need to enter into dialogue in the public square and become part of the solution (not just heralds of the many problems). In previous centuries, Christians understood their responsibility of loving people enough to share the fruit of a “Christian way of life.”75 We would do well to imitate them as they imitated Christ. The sum total of our lives both as individuals and as part of the community of Gods people should be no less holistic than that of Christ’s. The words of Francis Schaeffer ring as true today as the day they were penned: “True spirituality—the Christian life—flows on into the total culture.”76
The Finished Product of Spiritual Formation
We live in the already and await the not yet. The day is still future when spiritual formation will cease. But one day, when Christ appears, we shall be like him (1 John 3:2), and the work God began in us will be complete (Rom. 8:29-30; Phil. 1:6). There will be a final conformity of the believers life and character to the life and character of Jesus Christ. Along the way we will know we are heading in the right direction as we increasingly display the fruit of the Spirit in our lives (Gal. 5:22-23). We will have a passionate love for God and a visibly compassionate love for people. As we await the finished product, we run hard and seek to finish well—enabled by the Holy Spirit and God’s grace.
It will be a journey of heartache and wonder. Mark Buchanan reminds us, “It is the Unseen things that render the things we do see—both the beauty and the ugliness, the grandeur and the bareness, never enough, and yet never too much.”77 Our motivating hope is that one day the unseen will become fully visible. In the new heaven and new earth—throughout eternity—we will fully experience life in the redeemed community, and we will fully enjoy the dynamic love relationship that the Father, Son, and Spirit share. And in that day, we will become fully human. I can’t wait.78 [Paul Petitt (2018). (p. 31).
Foundations of Spiritual Formation. Kregel Publications. Retrieved from https://app.wordsearchbible.lifeway.com]